BHS Small Schools: Berkeley International High School

Discussions on this Page

Discussions on other Pages

See Also

List IB as only choice to guarantee entrance?

Jan 2011

We are relocating to Berkeley from the east coast. Our daughter has attended a private international school since the 4th grade and has participated in IB for 5 years, now as a 9th grader.

We are interested in BIHS for her, but specifically the IB Program. I have just learned that getting into the program would be based on chance, due to the lottery system. This is not a gamble we can take, since she has invested so much time into IB and does not want to change that now and it leaves us in an awkward situation.

If she puts IB as her first and only choice, is she guaranteed in as a 10th grader next fall or is that even an option? Since she has been in IB for 5 years, can that give her priority or not? Since we are not even residents yet, and will be new to the area do we not have as good a chance as returning students? We would likely not move until July/August or so.

Thank you in advance!

My daughter is in 9th grade at BIHS; it seems to be a good choice so far esp. if she is strong in language arts; they seem to have some very good core teachers. Getting in is a bit of a gamble as they have a hard to understand lottery system which is weighted in favor of kids already attending Berkeley public schools and then by some socio-economic and geographic zones. Your best bet is to contact the IB vice-principal or coordinator by e-mail or phone - see and perhaps arrange to meet them in person. You may also be referred to the Admissions Office (which is separate from all the schools) for your admissions questions and most likely you will not get an answer you can fully understand from this office. anon

Because you haven't relocated yet, I thought I'd let you know that Miramonte High School, another public school in the East Bay (in Orinda), offers an IB degree. A neighbor's daughter went there and got hers. I am 90 percent sure that you do not have to enroll in a special program. I don't think it would hurt to call the school and ask about it as long as you are gathering information.

Orinda is a suburb in the East Bay, just east through the Caldecott Tunnel (or over the Oakland/Berkeley hills). It is less racially diverse and more affluent than Berkeley, but it is pretty nice community and close to a lot.


It's true that if you don't join the lottery by the Feb/March deadlines, your student will be entered in a later lottery, and consequently has a reduced chance of getting one of their top two choices.

As to the IB program specifically, you can't evade the lottery by listing BIHS as the only option on the lottery form. You are required to list both of the two larger programs, Academic Choice (AC) and the IB program (BIHS). You may also list any of the four smaller programs if desired. The lottery attempts to give you a top choice, but may place you in any program you list on the form. However, for late arrivals to the school, the space in many learning communities/programs may already be filled, and there's no telling where your student will end up, and it's not out of the question, I believe, for a student to be placed in a program s/he didn't list on the lottery form, if they are entered the lottery late. The student will have to stick with their assignment for the first year, and then can re-enter the next lottery to try to change programs. That said, since your daughter is coming in as a sophomore, my guess is there could be space in the IB program, as I understand that some people opt out of IB after the first year, but again, there is no guarantee.

While it's understandable that you would like to capitalize on the investment you made in the IB program at a previous private school, that is not an argument that will hold sway with BHS administrators, as the whole point of the lottery is to allow access to the programs across a range of socioeconomic groups. Berkeley High is unusual, perhaps unique, in making the IB program available by lottery rather than testing in to it. If priority for the IB program is given to those who have the economic means to have been in a private school, or have traveled abroad (another argument I've heard used), that would vitiate the premise behind the lottery.

If you want to guarantee placement into an IB program, you could continue to pay for private school, at the (French American) International School in San Francisco. It will also have the advantage of more choices and courses than Berkeley High can afford to offer. But if you want a publicly funded education, you'll have to take your chances with the BHS lottery. If your strong preference is the IB, you should just list the two required options, BIHS and AC, in that order. And if she is placed into AC, she'll still have many excellent options available to her.

Welcome to Berkeley....and good luck.... Natasha B, Berkeley High PTSA President

While 80 percent of students get their first choice placement for a smaller learning community at Berkeley High, and an additional 10 percent get their second choice, there is no guarantee that any one person will get their first choice. If a family is planning on coming to BHS, they have to be happy - or at least make peace with the possibility - of a second choice or even a third. Now, if they don't get their first choice, they can always try again the following spring. The commitment is for one year.

BIHS is an excellent program, but so are the other five options at Berkeley High School. All six offer the courses necessary to fulfill the University of California a-g requirements--that is requirements for the most selective colleges and universities in the United States. All six offer access to AP or IB courses--college level classes. All six have committed parents and enthusiastic students. And, finally, all six are part of greater Berkeley High sharing the same clubs, sports and performing art programs. It is a good all-around school. Janet H.

This is not exactly a response about IB but more a response about the lottery. I think this page is very clear:

I know of no way to assure acceptance in BIHS even though this poster has a great reason for wanting it. For anyone else wanting to understand the lottery, this sentence in Question #5 from that link may have the most important fact:

''Students may choose not to include a small school as one of their ranked choices, but they must include on their list Academic Choice and Berkeley International High School.'' SO - a student who only wants a large school definitely should NOT write down a 3rd choice. For those who are trying to weigh the differences between AC and BIHS, AC and BIHS both offer as challenging an environment as any high-achieving or academically motivated student could ever wish for. Both have very good teachers and a few clunkers, and both have ways to make the program feel more personal for its students. Both offer options for additional challenge (honors, AP, Higher Levels) and each has a fine reputation with colleges. They are, however, different in structure and prospective students should analyze those differences, since this will impact their overall educational experience (more structure and more required courses vs. more choice in how to fulfill requirements.) Anyone can google the IB curriculum; it is very prescribed and very demanding. Academic Choice is just that - having more choice about your academic classes. Reputations of the two go up and down, in and out of fashion. Reality is, with the new administration fixing a host of ills at BHS, both are stable, rigorous and excellent. One of those ills - the very unequal class sizes of 2009-10 - are that way no longer. Not perfect - what is? - but a great school now. Satisfied BHS parent

In last week's responses to a query re the IB program at BIHS ''anonymous'' wrote that the lottery system at Berkeley High School was weighted in favor on students currently enrolled in the BUSD. This is categorically not true: All students who are enrolled in the district by Feb. 17, 2011 are entered into the first round of the 2011-2012 lottery at the same time. Enrollment is now open for students who are not currently enrolled in the BUSD. Again, if you are enrolled by the 17th of February you go into the lottery at the same time as students from BUSD middle schools.

Finally, even if you do not get in the first round of the lottery (say you decide to come in the summer), your chances of getting your top one or two choices is still very high.

For a detailed explanation of how the lottery works, please go to: Janet H

Sorry, I am still in need of some clarification:

Is it GUARANTEED that a student who only lists AC or BIHS as choices will be placed in one of those schools? Or is there some risk that if we don't put down a ''smaller'' school as a third choice that he could possibly be placed in one of the smaller schools that needs someone in his ''diversity category''? Obviously, if there is risk of his being placed in any random ''smaller'' school, we would rather put down as a third choice one he would at least find tolerable. Are the ''smaller'' schools generally in greater demand?

I found the following earlier comments (pasted below) to be in conflict. One seems to be saying listing only AC & BIHS guarantees placement in one of those programs, while the other holds out the possibility of being put in your 3rd choice. If someone doesn't get their 1st or 2nd choice and hasn't listed a 3rd choice, it seems like they are setting themselves up to be put in a school they might not like at all.

Earlier comments: '''Students may choose not to include a small school as one of their ranked choices, but they must include on their list Academic Choice and Berkeley International High School.'' SO - a student who only wants a large school definitely should NOT write down a 3rd choice.''

''While 80 percent of students get their first choice placement for a smaller learning community at Berkeley High, and an additional 10 percent get their second choice, there is no guarantee that any one person will get their first choice. If a family is planning on coming to BHS, they have to be happy - or at least make peace with the possibility - of a second choice or even a third.''

Thanks in advance for clarification on this! Looking for clear answers

Question: Is it GUARANTEED that a student who only lists AC or BIHS as choices will be placed in one of those schools?

The answer is yes, it is guaranteed IF you get into the round #1 of lottery. The DEFINITIVE ANSWER is on the Berkeley High website #5: Students may choose not to include a small school as one of their ranked choices, but they must include on their list Academic Choice and Berkeley International High School.

Or here is a quote from an announcement on the school e-tree: How many small learning community choices may we list? Your child may list as many as six or as few as two. Students MUST list AC and BIHS, the two large programs, in the preferred order. If the student only wants those two then s/he only lists those two. If s/he wants one of the small schools s/he lists the small schools desired, in the preferred order, and then finishes off with AC and BIHS, in the preferred order. (BHS e-tree 2/4/11)

I wrote the following and I stand by it: SO - a student who only wants a large school definitely should NOT write down a 3rd choice.' satisfied BHS parent

Online International Baccalaureate program?

Nov 2010

Our daughter is a freshman in high school in a school district that does not have an international baccalaureate program. Her father is from overseas, and he was in the IB program in his high school, and thinks our daughter would enjoy the experience. Does anyone know if kids can participate in the international baccalaureate program online? Berkeley High has a program, but we live in El Cerrito. Thanks! IB mama

There is not an on-line version of the IB program. Having spent the last three years working with the Berkeley High BIHS program, I acquired a pretty good understanding of how it works. Unlike AP exams, which anyone can take regardless of whether they enroll in an AP prep class, students who take IB exams must be enrolled in a class taught by an IB-certified teacher. In addition to the final exam there are periodic ''internal assessments'' that students must take, and these have to be administered by an IB-certified teacher. The combination of the results of the internal assessments and the final exam are what create the students ''score'' for the exam.

There are some limited ways to accommodate classes not taught through a school program, but they still must be organized by an IB certified school. For example, there are a number of students in the BIHS program who came in with a number of years of experience with a language for which there is an IB exam, but that is not taught at Berkeley High. To accommodate those students BIHS implemented a policy to allow them to get outside tutors who were IB-certified and would be willing to administer the internal assessments. I believe the final exam was done on the regular IB exam schedule, established by the IBO, at Berkeley High.

You can find more information about the IB program at the IBO web site, and on the BIHS web site (, which also provides a link to the IBO site.

Having said all this, my daughter graduated from BIHS last year, and she got an excellent education that is serving her very well in college, particularly in history and writing. Sandi

Considering switching schools

Oct 2010

I would like to know what are the chances for my child to be placed into BIHS at Berkeley High via the lottery if it is our first choice. We are a Cauacasion, Berkeley Hills family. We have heard wonderful things and we have a child that needs challenge and looks forward to a big school next year. I am concerned that since the program is doing so well it might be oversubscribed for next year and it may impact our school choice. Also, does BIHS have the same socioeconomic balancing criteria as the BHS small schools? Any other BIHS hints, tips or caveats will be appreciated. Can't believe my baby is going to HS!

Here is what current BHS parents have been told recently: The lottery for Berkeley HS is supposed to be cleaned up for next year. The choices, and how to make them, will be made more obvious, the policies will be made more clear, the process is supposed to be less mysterious and more transparent. There could be some refinement to the process.

Your race does not matter when it comes to the lottery. Berkeley is divided into micro-districts (really - of only a few blocks) and those are based on census data. These are used by the lottery to achieve some kind of balance within each school and each program. So your address does have the most influence as a factor.

BIHS is a great program and is very challenging. So is AC. AC is a bit bigger (this year and last year) so it is statistically easier to get into if you live in the hills. Small schools will also tell you they are academically challenging but that doesn't seem to square with the experience of many students.

If the district changes any of the policies governing the BHS lottery next year then statistical likelihoods will change. Any student who only wants to be in AC or BIHS will get one of those choices though - that has been assured. However, for a student who has BIHS as a first choice - no one will be able to answer your question about ''chances.'' Your chances might be statistically better if you lived in certain parts of West Berkeley and that is about all anyone could speculate at this point.

Any student who wants a challenge will be challenged in BIHS or AC. BIHS has very limited course choices because its curriculum follows the international IB standards and students seem to agree that junior year is particularly gruelling. AC has many choices and that is how students achieve being challenged - by choosing more rigorous classes. That is the choice aspect of Academic Choice.

Many changes are taking place with the new principal Mr. Pasquale Scuderi so any facts or rumors that were happening during the Slemp years may be in flux or may no longer be true. much more satisfied BHS parent

I'll let others weigh in on pros and cons of BIHS, although there have been many discussions archived on the BPS website. But as to the chances of your child being assigned to BIHS? It's hard to say.

BIHS has been very popular, particularly among ''hills families'' recently, but it used to be that A.C. was, and who knows, maybe Green Academy or AHA or one of the other small schools will be in vogue next year. At any rate, since it's a lottery, in a way, it doesn't matter what your ''chances'' are, as there is no sure thing. Most kids get their 1st or 2nd choice school, but I don't know last year's breakdown as to first choice for those who selected BIHS. So don't base your decision on whether to send your kid to BHS based on ''chances'' of getting into a particular program. Find out about both A.C. and BIHS....both have pros and cons, depending on your kid. My youngest wanted BIHS but got AC and is really happy with all the options it provides.

By the way, up through this year, incoming students were required to list the two large programs, Academic Choice and BIHS, and optionally list any or all of the 4 small schools. Next year, rumor has it it could be that students will only be required to list A.C., and the rest could be optional. The reason for this would be that BIHS, like the small schools, restricts a students' curricular options to a smaller set of required classes, and not all students want that. If a kid is in BIHS, for example, it's really hard to fit in electives, P.E., really much of anything outside the IB curriculum.

As to your other questions - the lottery doesn't know that you're Caucasian. The lottery is not based on individual students' characteristics. It works the same way K-8 school assignments do, by using the demographic profiles of Berkeley neighborhoods (a few blocks at a time), in terms of education, ethnicity, and income in an attempt to balance each learning community (AC, AHA, BIHS, CAS, CPA, Green). So your address, not your family, determines how you are coded for lottery purposes.

Hope that helps. BHS Parent

I want to thank the respondants to this (my) question for your kindness, thoroughness and insight. We are particularly interested in the structured IB program for this particular child but I appreciate the reassurance regarding AC as well. It sounds like our younger child with performings arts interests may do better to choose AC for the elective time. Our school choice is bounded primarily by financial concerns but we want to be a comfortable as possible with choosing BHS, since we would need to work on the exams etc. for private schools soon (and then rob a bank or something). baby goes to HS

Considering switching schools

Oct 2009

Re: Switching Schools as High School Junior
I can't comment on whether your daughter should switch schools as a Junior, although it seems like a tough time to switch. But I wonder whether she's talked with any of this year's Seniors in the BIHS program, so she can know what to expect over the Junior and Senior year. If she pursues the IB Diploma she will have an incredibly challenging course load, which at the same time, is fantastically engaging, provided she's intersted in an international point of view. I'm sure many of the current Seniors would be happy to talk with her about how things progress. Ninth and 10th grade in BIHS are preparatory for the IB curriculum. International standards restrict the actual IB curriculum to 11th and 12th grade.

When my daughter, and I visited colleges last Spring when she was a BIHS Junior, nearly every admissions officer we talked with commented that achieving the IB Diploma represents completing the most challenging high school curriculum available. She's now doing the work to qualify for the Diploma, and finds it both really challenging and engaging.

I'm sure the counselors in the IB program can make arrangements for your daughter to talk to other students who are pursuing the Diploma. That may be a good first step before going down the path of switching schools. S.

Sophmore year and beyond at BIHS

April 2009

I read with interest the recent discussion here about the small schools at Berkeley High. I have a different type of question than the one previously discussed, although it does directly concern one of the programs at Berkeley High. Our daughter is completing her freshman year at the Berkeley High International School, and seems consistently under-challenged and disappointed at the lack of intellectual engagement in her core classes. I've been telling her that things will improve with time and that next year will be more difficult/challenging/engaging; on further reflection, I'm not sure whether that's really the case and I could just be expressing my hopes for next year rather than any real working knowledge. I'd really appreciate hearing from other parents and/or students in this program, and especially the experience of students further along - does it get harder? What is the Theory of Knowledge experience like? Any special teachers or aspects of the program to recommend? I ask these questions with a very great sense of appreciation for the challenges of teaching in a larger urban school, and think by and large the staff and faculty are doing a great job. So I am not here to seek disparaging comments but rather to learn more about what's ahead and help prepare my daughter accordingly. Big fan of the IB program

My son is concluding his sophomore year in BIHS and I couldn't have a more different perception of the program. In both his freshman year and this year his BIHS core teachers have been engaging, challenging and enthusiastic. He does find the work fairly easy, but the concepts and teachers make it personally enagaging and he is learning a lot. He has had to do ppt presentations and group work and has learned about concepts with respect to world politics, history and culture that frankly my daughter (now in college) was never taught. FWIW he has Mr Rodriguez, Mr Rogers, Mr. Liu and now Matt ??(economics). All terrific. Sorry I don't have any advice but I did want to write to offer another experience. satisfied parent of BIHS student

Yes - Sophomore year and beyond are very challenging and engaging in the BIHS program. This year's Juniors are the first class, so there's not yet been a Senior year.

Sophomore year - the students take Comparative Economic Systems, Comparative Beliefs, English and History as well as other classes outside of IB. These classes are well integrated, with the teachers working together to develop curriculum and class assignments and students are very engaged. There is lots of writing, thinking, and class discussion. My daughter came home most days with something new to talk about, and developed a strong interest in understanding how belief systems and economics affect how countries develop.

Junior year BIHS includes English and History, and also includes the IBCAS program that helps students identify ways to participate in the community. IBCAS entails 150 hours of Creativity, Action and Service, with students taking on individual activities. Students also begin work on thier Extended Essay, which is a 4,000 work essay on a topic of their choice. They read lots of books in both History and English and have great class discussions and writing assignments.

Next year as Seniors they get the opportunity to take Theory of Knowledge, and to complete the rest of the IB program, including finishing their IBCAS requirements, completing their Extended Essays, and deciding whether to take the exams that result in the IB Diploma.

In visiting colleges I've been told that the IB Diploma represents completing the most rigorous of high school programs. Not all of the students in IB will choose to take the exams, and they can choose to only specific exams that result in a certificate rather than the 6 exams that can lead to the full diploma, the certicicates are roughly equivalent to the credit students get for AP exams. With the full diploma some colleges will waive Freshman year requirements. Even without the exams, colleges will know that students have taken challenging IB classes through the designation on their transcript.

Its been challenging for Berkeley High to fully implement such a demanding program for 250 students per grade; most IB programs are only provided to students that test in. It will be critical that resources and support continue to be available in this economic environment, but the program is strong, and should only improve with more time. S.

Dear Big Fan of IB

My daughter is a Junior in the IB program and will be part of the first graduating class of IB students at BHS. Theory of Knowledge will be offered for the the first time at BIHS when my daughter becomes a Senior so I can't speak to that class in particular.

When my daughter was a Freshman her classes were very easy for her and she said that much of what she studied in her core classes was a repeat of her middle school curriculum. But I think that the ease of her program in Freshman year was a plus in some ways as she came from a small middle school so being less stressed out about her classes helped with the adjustment process.

I know that my daughter was able to work with one or two of her teachers in terms of getting permission to work on things that she was interested in doing outside of the assigned work to avoid boredom. Maybe that's what your daughter can do in these closing months of her Freshman year?

Believe me the IB program will increase in scope and will challenge your daughter as she moves through the program. My daughter waited until Junior year to take AP classes and is taking all Higher Level IB classes. The work is very challenging for her and her teachers this year are absolutely fantastic in almost every class which I think makes all of the difference. With very few exceptions the Core instructors for IB have been a very good fit for my daughter.

Wishing you all the best. Another IB Fan

BIHS vs. Academic Choice

Jan 2009

Re: Entering freshman confused about AC vs. international program
My daughter, a BIHS junior who is an honors math student and has done well in AP classes, has found the BIHS program progressively more challenging each year (not to mention enriching--she's had great teachers, speakers and field trips). Freshman year was definitely the easiest. Beginning in Junior year BIHS students start doing community service hours and start working on an extended essay in addition to their regular course work. My daughter is also pursuing the IB Diploma which requires her to complete certain courses and sit for 6 fairly rigorous exams. I think your daughter will find the program challenging especially if she pursues the IB diploma, but if she does decide to leave BIHS, I've heard that there will a bunch of students from other programs at BHS who will be happy to take her spot. Mom of BIHS Junior

Would like some info about the IB program

December 2006

I would like to get some more information about BHS's IB program. Is it certain this program will begin, or is it still up in the air? We would love our kids to attend an IB program. I know there is a lottery for small schools at BHS -- what are the stats for kids getting their first choice?
Interested Parent

The IB program is up & running smoothly at BHS. Our son is in IB. (He's in 9th, perfect timing). The curriculum is intense & the entire staff for the IB program is dedicated & on-fire with their enthusiasm for what they are discussing this year. Last month I had the opportunity to accompany the IB kids on a field trip to San Fran, so I got to see first-hand the way the teachers interact with the kids and the way the kids approached the learning task for the field trip. I was impressed. Our son is getting the real world experience of being in a diverse urban public school while at the same time accessing the most rigorous & internationally recognized curriculum currently available. It's exactly what we wanted for him.

We could not be happier with the IB program and we had our hopes set fairly high. is a good resource if you want to get to know the curriculum.
mom of an IB student at BHS